Legislators are making renewed efforts to legalize medical cannabis for combat veterans
A coalition of Congressmen has worked for years to give military veterans the right to use medical cannabis, but 2021 could be exactly the year they succeed.
In 2018, Senators Brian Nelson (D-FL) and Bill Schatz (D-HI) filed the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act, a law that would allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to provide medical treatment to their patients Recommend cannabis. But like every other cannabis law passed this year, the leaders of GOP Congress killed it before it could come to a vote. Legislators continued to reintroduce the law every year, but the same fate met with.
Fast forward to 2021 and the Democrats have majority control over Congress and the White House, greatly increasing the chances that cannabis reform efforts could finally be successful. This month the Safe Harbor Act was reintroduced with strong support from both parties. The House version of the bill is now sponsored by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Dave Joyce (R-OH) and 9 other co-sponsors. In the Senate, Senator Schatz is still the main sponsor alongside Bernie Sanders and five other Senators.
“Medical marijuana has been scientifically proven to have a significant impact on the treatment of conditions veterans commonly experience upon returning from service, such as chronic pain and PTSD,” Rep. Lee said in a statement. “This legislation will enable veterans and their physicians to make informed decisions about the use of medical marijuana to treat chronic disease in states with legal medical marijuana programs without federal interference.”
The current bill would allow veterans to use and possess medicinal cannabis as long as they conform to their home state’s medicinal pot program. VA doctors are currently allowed to discuss cannabis with veterans, but the new law would officially allow them to write recommendations for medicinal cannabis.
The Safe Harbor Act would also require the VA to conduct research into the use of medicinal cannabis to treat chronic pain and reduce opioid abuse. To fund the research and policy changes, the bill would provide $ 15 million in federal funding from the 2022 and 2023 budgets. This legislation would expire completely five years after it was signed unless it was renewed by Congress.
“There is growing evidence of the beneficial use of medical cannabis for the treatment of PTSD and chronic pain, two dire conditions that plague many of our veterans,” Congressman Dave Joyce said in a press release. “If a state has made it legal, as Ohio did, the federal government shouldn’t prevent a VA doctor from recommending medicinal cannabis if he believes the treatment is right for his patient.”
Although veterans are currently able to have their own medical marijuana treatments without the help of the VA, they risk losing their federal benefits if they do. Any veteran, or even VA department employee, could lose credit, medical assistance, or other benefits if caught using cannabis, even if it is legal in their home state.
Earlier this year, Rep. Greg Steube (R-FL) proposed a bill that would prevent the government from neglecting the benefits veterans have over the use of medicinal pots. However, the Safe Harbor Act would ensure that veterans have even better access to this essential medicine.